Meat Intake & Mortality
Dr. Amy says… “Use these scientific findings to prolong your awesome life.”
The journal Archives of Internal Medicine, recently posted to their website the results of a long-term prospective study of approximately 500,000 people. This is a huge study, originally published in 2009, and there is generally pretty good accuracy with high numbers of participants.
This study looked at the diets of half a million people, mostly white, middle class, ages 50-71, via the National Institute of Health – AARP Diet and Health Study cohort. The diet information was gathered via a food frequency questionnaire that the participants completed at baseline and at 10 years. During the time frame there were over 71,000 deaths so the researchers had a large enough mortality rate to confidently assess dietary factors associated with death. Upon evaluation of the two 24-hour diet recalls, the researchers divided the participants into “high”, “medium”, and “low” red and processed meat eaters. (This means that the people who were vegetarian or ate mostly white meat and fish were in the “low” category.)
Here are the study’s findings:
There was a statistically significantly higher death rate among the “high” red meat and processed meat eaters among men and women for both cardiovascular disease and cancer (and overall death rate, meaning you were more likely to be dead at the end of the study if you were in the high red & processed meat eater category).
This is what was reported on The Salt, NPR’s Health Blog…
“The statistics are staggering,” study author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public health, told us. “The increased risk is really substantial.”
He found that people who consumed about one serving of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) per day had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, compared with those who were eating very little red meat. And processed meats raised the risk higher, to about a 20 percent increased risk of death from diseases including cancer and heart disease.
This is very substantial! The question is “how much red and processed meat is safe to eat?”
Of course, there is no perfect answer, because it may be that the answer is “none.” However, the study’s author, Dr. Hu, proposes “A moderate consumption, for example one serving every other day, I think is fine.”
Choosing white meat (chicken, turkey), fish, and legumes/beans can lower your risk or mortality by 7-14%, according to this large study. (Good news to meat eaters – there is no reason to become a vegetarian unless you want that dietary lifestyle.)
The bottom line recommendation from Dr. Amy is…
- Eat red meat only once per week (and choose the leaner cuts of red meat to limit saturated animal fat)
- Eat processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, salami, ham) rarely – i.e. once per season or at a holiday
- Eat chicken, turkey, and fish as your regular meat sources.
- Eat legumes, beans, nut/nut butters, and seeds regularly – perhaps you could have a meatless day per week – split pea soup, lentil stew, black beans and rice, meatless chili, hummus and falafel, spicy peanut noodles – these are all ways to eat a healthy and delicious meatless meal. (The plant sterols in beans and legumes are excellent at lowering bad cholesterol.)
Of course, eating more fruits and vegetables is a great way to drastically improve the nutritional value of your diet. Let’s focus as much as possible on what you ought to eat (rather than what you shouldn’t eat). Eat lots of vegetables, fruit, chicken/fish/turkey, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and olive oil/fish oil/coconut oil. Everything else you can live without so eat accordingly.